These essays' strengths are the author's skill in the writing craft - structure both in the macro (narrative) and micro (sentence) level. Damn can she...moreThese essays' strengths are the author's skill in the writing craft - structure both in the macro (narrative) and micro (sentence) level. Damn can she pull an essay together. It's always nice to read someone who knows how to handle an ending.
These essays' weaknesses are in the author's seeming inability to acknowledge her own failings without trying to justify those failings, in a backhanded, narrative-structure kind of way. I mean, good on her for actively acknowledging when she expresses ideas, often about class but occasionally ethnicity, that are rooted in prejudice and stereotype and do not reflect well on her. That are unflattering. I am all for that kind of honesty, exposing one's ugly, raw bits on the page and thinking about them out loud. What I'm not so much for is then wrapping around to wink and nudge at, "well, when you really look at it, wasn't I kind of right? wasn't I kind of justified in sneering at [the poor/the helplessly bourgeoise/people who choose to live their lives differently from me]?" And to do that again and again, in essay after essay.
The worst offender in this category for me was the essay on the polyamorous family who were also science fiction/fantasy fans of the tie-dyed wolf t-shirt/I am channeling the Norse pantheon/I have figurines of my gaming character variety. The author graciously finds it in herself not to dislike/pity them because they have unconventional sexual relationships; no, she pities them because she loathes their taste in books and they will (and I loosely quote) never know the joy of loving someone who has unfamiliar books on their bookshelves (which is a lesser sort of relationship, clearly). Now, she's not wrong about the joy that can be found in being introduced to new books/art/culture/whatever by someone you love, but it all just comes off as judging people who even she portrays as essentially pretty happy with their lifestyle and hobbies for not liking books that she likes. Oh gosh, these poor people who will never know the joys of literary fictions!
Yes, as a science fiction and fantasy fan, as a geek, I'm a little sensitive on this. Even if the people described are probably not anyone I'd be clamoring to be BFF with, I cannot despise them because of their desire to seek people out who love the same things they love, no matter how much the narrative structure of the essay encourages me to.
To be slightly more generous, I do wonder if some of these essays rub me quite as poorly as they do because of how dated they are. It is very, very clear these essays are well more than a decade old, and it's kind of fascinating by how many things that might have been outre or challenging initially are now kind of banal and HuffPo-y. Oooooh, online romance. How daring. How shocking to find out the person you created in your head based on correspondence can never be equaled by the actual human being. Oooooh, you've got massive student loans and consumer debt from a series of choices that made a sort of sense at the time but are crushing and crushingly illogical in retrospect. I get that with more honesty and more sympathy and more, I don't know, humanity from The Billfold on a daily basis. Basically, I think this book has been entirely trumped by the internet, even if the author is a damn sight more skilled than large swathes of the internet.(less)
Not as good as The Duke of Shadows, but still a cut above your average romance for me. The heroine walked the line of being too painfully naive and tr...moreNot as good as The Duke of Shadows, but still a cut above your average romance for me. The heroine walked the line of being too painfully naive and trying not to be, while the hero walked the line of being too painfully condescending on far too many occasions, but there's something delightfully cinematic about much of Duran's scene-setting. Yes, the plot was a little strained. Yes, the reasons the hero and heroine were keeping themselves apart felt flimsy rather than heartfelt. It's still a fun read. (less)
After thoroughly devouring its predecessor, The Pursuit of Love, I dove straight into this one without even looking at the back. Which turns out was a...moreAfter thoroughly devouring its predecessor, The Pursuit of Love, I dove straight into this one without even looking at the back. Which turns out was a good thing, as the back of book descriptions for both this and The Pursuit of Love bear very little resemblance to what's actually inside. A good thing, in my mind, as the actual book(s) is (are) far sharper and funnier than the blurbs ever hint at. Polly and her ideas of love are almost immaterial to the bulk of the novel, providing at best the "plot" around which Mitford's vicious and funny social commentary hangs. "Romantic comedy" - I think not. No one ever mentions the incest-adjacent overtones on the back of the book.
Also, this book (and all of Mitford's) are far franker about sex and sexuality than I ever would have expected. Egregious stereotypes of the time are rampant, but no one ever pretends the gay heir is anything other than what he is, and they love him as much as they love anybody in their almost universal cold-fishedness. (less)
I'd only distantly heard of the Mitford clan - just enough to lackadaisically pick up a used copy of a double-packaged The Pursuit of Love and Love in...moreI'd only distantly heard of the Mitford clan - just enough to lackadaisically pick up a used copy of a double-packaged The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, but then a few months back the internet recommended Nancy's work three times in two weeks, and I gave in.
It was an odd sort of thing - I felt no real connection to the characters; the plot is essentially nonexistent, and yet by the time I was a third of the way into the thing, I found myself foregoing far snappier plots with far more beloved characters to read more of Nancy's sly, snide asides. And I certainly think of them as Nancy's, not precisely her narrator's, because much of the amusement comes from the contrast between Fanny's wide-eyed attempts at worldliness and the unconsciously scathing things Nancy puts in her mouth.
This book is neither a romance nor the genre which still bears the unfortunate name chick lit, though it bears a passing resemblance to both. It's far too unvarnished about its characters, though never unkind, to properly fit in either genre (not to mention the unsentimental yet fitting ending, which is is certainly not happily-ever-after). It's also very much shaped by its timeframe - between the wars - and weirdly out of time, pulling on much older traditions. It's a society novel about frivolous people, yet it never quite makes it to frivolity itself. Again, far too unsentimental. Just frickin' funny in many, many places.